Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pairs well with....



How many of you saw the movie Ratatouille? Remember the scene where Remy (the star mouse) is teaching his brother, Emile about food pairings and all the exciting combinations of tastes? . . . .   "Now, imagine every great taste in the world being combined into infinite combinations. Tastes that no one has tried yet! Discoveries to be made!" 

In a world of infinite combinations, some things are just meant to be together, like peanut butter and jelly. Or cookies and milk. Eggs and bacon. Popcorn and real butter. Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.

Think about it for a minute or two. What's are some of your favorite food pairings? I'm a lot like Remy and have many, many favorites. Here are just a few that immediately come to mind:

Olive oil and butter - I know - you don't eat it, but it's great for cooking because the olive oil allows for a higher smoke point (temperature that oil begins to break down and produce bluish smoke) while the butter gives a great taste
Tomato and basil - goes on just about anything (bruschetta, fish fillets, pasta, scrambled eggs . . . .)
Nutella and fruits - a recent discovery at our house; it's delicious with almost any fruit on toast and it makes the best grilled sandwiches with fruit, marshmallows, caramel . . . .
Peanut Butter and apples - pb is great for sandwiches or getting kids to eat celery, but my favorite way to eat peanut butter is with crisp apples
Cream Cheese - I haven't found anything I don't like cream cheese with - yet . . . .

I make most of the bread our family eats. We're not bread snobs or anything like that. I just really enjoy making bread - all kinds of bread. Fresh bread is fantastic, but what about the day after? We're a small family, so there's always "day old" bread in the house. Bruschetta is one of many great ways to use up any day old (or older) bread or even pound cake.

Bruschetta is wonderful in the summertime, when it's too hot to even think about cooking . It's easy and fast to make and the bread choices and topping combinations are limitless. It's also versatile. It can be an appetizer, the main course, or even a dessert.

Almost any bread works for bruschetta, but I prefer French or Country Loaf. I would recommend using a dense bread or a day-old bread rather than bread that is fresh because it'll hold up better. Brioche loaf is really good for the sweeter, dessert-type bruschettas. None of the bakeries in Sioux Falls (as far as I'm aware) make a brioche loaf, but I did find an excellent recipe in Ina Garten's "Barefoot in Paris" cookbook. Not only does it make a superb loaf of bread, it's super-easy and (bonus) you don't have to knead it! Ina Garten is one of my favorite chefs and I LOVE this cookbook! It's full of easy, elegant, delicious recipes!!

Did you know pound cake also works really well as a dessert-style bruschetta? I'm not sure if there is such a thing as a "dessert bruschetta", but we have it in our house whenever there's a little pound cake or brioche loaf left over. I use the same preparation technique and top it with things like nutella and strawberries, bananas, or apples or peanut butter blended with cream cheese and marshmallow creme and bananas or apples and shaved chocolate (yum!) or marshmallow creme mixed with cream cheese and topped with any combination of fruit (like strawberries, kiwis, and melon).

For those of you not yet acquainted with Nutella, check out this site:  http://www.msadventuresinitaly.com/blog/2009/02/04/nutella-virgin-50-ways-to-eat-nutella-and-nutella-lover-types/. It'll help you become more familiar with Nutella and all it's wonderful uses!

I've included a recipe for a simple bruschetta below, but feel free to think beyond traditional recipes. You are only limited by your imagination when it comes to topping bruschetta, in my opinion. Get a little crazy and have a little fun. What combinations do you like? What sounds good to you? If you're looking for a little inspiration, look to some of your favorite recipes. Cantaloupe or honey dew melon wrapped in prosciutto is a traditional Italian recipe. What if you used it as a topping for bruschetta? Instead of wrapping the melon slice in prosciutto, dice the melon and chop the prosciutto, add a pinch of salt and maybe a little basil and - voila! Or, instead of cantaloupe, what about watermelon with a pinch of salt and a little mint? . . . .

One tip before we get to the recipe:  TASTE as you go along! If you're not sure, add just a little of any ingredient. You can always add more, if the dish you're preparing needs it, but it you add too much well . . . .


Classic Tomato/Basil Bruschetta

I prepare the topping first so the flavors can blend or "marry".

2-3 medium-sized tomatoes or 5-7 roma (plum) tomatoes, diced (you can seed them, if you like)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
salt (I like kosher salt), a pinch or so (add a little, then taste and add more accordingly)
basil (about 1 tbsp. fresh - or so), chopped or 1 tsp. dried

Mix together in a bowl and set aside.

Now for the base (the bread). There are a variety of ways you can prepare this. You can do it on the stovetop, on the grill, or under the broiler. I prefer either the stovetop or grill method in the summertime, but it's up to you.

On the stovetop:  I love butter. To quote Julie Powell (The Julie/Julia Project),  "Is there anything better than butter? Think it over, any time you taste something that's delicious beyond imagining and you say 'what's in this?' the answer is always going to be butter. The day there is a meteorite rushing toward Earth and we have thirty days to live, I am going to spend it eating butter. Here is my final word on the subject, you can never have too much butter."

That being said, I butter both sides of the bread. While I'm preparing the bread, I heat olive oil (about 2 tbsp.) in a pan (be sure you don't crowd the pan or the bread won't brown properly!). Brown the bread on both sides until evenly brown.


Move the browned bread to a serving platter or plate and top with the tomato mixture. If you like, you can add some shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese.


That's it! Enjoy!!

If you're grilling and want to prepare the bread on grill just blend equal amounts of melted butter and olive oil in a bowl. Brush both sides of the bread slices with the butter/oil mixture and place over indirect heat on the grill (preferably the upper shelf, if you have one). Grill until evenly browned on both sides, top with tomato mixure (and cheese, if you like) and serve.

Under the broiler is similar to the grilling method. Use the butter/oil mixture on both sides of the bread and place under a broiler for a few minutes (be sure to watch it!) until both sides are browned. Top and enoy!

Please let me know if you have any recipes, tips, or techniques you’d like to share. They’re always welcome! And, if you try any of the recipes and want to share them, please send a photo along with any comments to me. I’ll publish them in the next post!

And, if you have any questions about this recipe or a technique, please email me at itsnotjustabouttherecipe@ymail.com and I'll do my best to answer it!

Next Week:  The incredible, edible egg!




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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fabulously Fresh . . . .



It's that time of year, when gardens are bursting with fresh vegetables. For those of us without a garden or maybe just a little patio garden, take heart, we can always find excellent fresh produce at the many roadside stands popping up, in addition to the local Farmer's Market.

I try to use fresh vegetable when they're available. Here in South Dakota, our window of opportunity is limited to just a few months. During the winter months, I use frozen vegetables, but it's not the same as using fresh. The colors, tastes, and textures are more intersting with fresh vegetables that are in season, in my opinion.

Take a moment to consider the vegetables you will be using in the salad below. Lay the vegetables out, if necessary, to evaluate their colors. You will want to have a colorful salad with a variety color and shades of color. Think of the color, taste, and texture of each vegetable:  the yellow sweetness of corn, the cool green of cucumbers, the subtle heat of peppers, the cool white of cauliflower, the crisp-ness of broccoli . . . .

The recipe for Vegetable Salad comes from the Trinity Lutheran Church cookbook in Lake Norden, SD. I grew up with this salad and it's still cool and delicious on hot summer days. I especially love the tang of the dressing and the crisp-ness of the vegetables. I also like how versatile this recipe is with the wide selection of vegetables that can be used.

* * * * * 

It's essential to use the right knife when preparing ingredients, such as chopping vegetables for the salad below. Ask any professional chef and they'll tell you there are just 3 basic things you need to know when it comes to knives:

1. Weight. Hold the knife. It should have some heft or weight to it and should feel balanced in your hand. Heavier knives are actually easier to control.

2. Tang. The knife should have a full tang which simply means the blade runs the full length of the knife and the handle and is riveted in place.

3. Blade. You want a blade that is made from forged, high-carbon stainless steel. Avoid knives made with stamped metal as these don't last as long, are harder to sharpen, and are lighter in weight.

If you could only have 3 knives, the professional cooks also agree on these:

1. 8-inch Chef's Knife. This knife is most suitable for the greatest variety of tasks and, properly taken care of, will last a lifetime. I am partial to a Santoku chef's knife.

2. Paring Knife. Look for one with a blade that's about 4 1/2 inches long for greater versatility.

3.  Serrated Knife. This knife is great for cutting softer foods, such as breads or even tomatoes.

  

Vegetable Salad

 

6-8 cups of vegetables (fresh or frozen) - this can be any blend:  corn (sweet corn is particularly good), peas or pea pods, celery, carrots, onion (red, white, or yellow), pepper (red, green, or orange), cucumber, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, tomato or any other vegetable you like.

Dressing, see below

Thaw the vegetables in a strainer over a bowl, if using frozen. Discard any water that accumulates in the bowl. Combine with any remaining fresh vegetables in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, mix well, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours for the best flavor.

Dressing

1/2 cup oil (vegetable or olive)
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. celery seed
1/4 cup Western or French dressing

Combine oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and celery seed in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; remove from heat and cool. Add Western or French dressing to cooled mixture. Mix well.


* I used 4 cups of Birdseye Thai Stir-Fry Vegetable Mix with 1/2 cucumber (diced), and 1 medium tomato (diced) in the photo shown above. The frozen vegetables were thawed in a collander or strainer over a bowl before the dressing was added. Discard any water in the bowl before mixing the vegetables and dressing.

* * * * *

Western dressing can be found in almost any grocery store or market, but it's not one I usually keep on hand. Rather than buy a bottle that might otherwise sit in the refrigerator for months before I notice it and discard it, I use the recipe below and make just a cup at-a-time.

Western Dressing

1/3 cup Miracle Whip
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp. white vinegar
2 tbsp. ketchup
1/4 tsp. mustard
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. olive or canola oil
1/8 tsp. salt

Whisk all the ingredients until well blended. Store in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

Please let me know if you have any recipes, tips, or techniques you'd like to share. They're always welcome! And, if you try any of the recipes and want to share them, please send a photo along with any comments to me. I'll publish them in the next post! 

Next Week:  Great Pairings!!


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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coca-Cola, Salt, and Slow Cookers (oh my!) . . . .



I think every household should have a slow cooker or crock pot. They're a great investment. Slow cookers are relatively inexpensive to buy and help you save money with low operating costs. They also allow you to buy and serve cheaper cuts of meat because slow cookers tenderize meat over low heat and longer cooking times. Cooking and clean-up are very easy with slow cookers, the meals cooked in slow cookers are tasty and healthy, and you'll save a lot of time with "fix it and forget it" recipes used in slow cooking. All of these are great reasons to use a slow cooker, but my personal favorite is slow cookers don't heat your house up in the summertime. I'm able to serve complete meals on the hottest days of the year without turning the house into an oven.

**********

It's no secret pork loves salt and, unless the pork is smoked or otherwise pre-seasoned, you can be generous with the salt (and pepper, if you like). When cooking, I prefer kosher salt. It has a course, grainy texture and it disperses (melts) more readily when cooking. Kosher salt also has no preservatives and is "lighter" or less dense than table salt. You can find kosher salt in almost any grocery store or market along with all the other types of salt.


Easy Slow Cooker Pork Ribs


I came across this super-easy recipe while surfing the internet one rainy Saturday. When I saw that Coke was one of just 3 ingredients, I was intrigued. It seemed just weird enough to be good - kind of like the recipe for cocktail weiners made with only Little Smokies, grape jelly, and mustard.

1 lb. Country-Style Pork Ribs (or whatever cut you prefer)
Salt (kosher is best)
1 can Coca-Cola (NOT Pepsi - you must use Coke)
Your favorite barbeque sauce (we prefer Famous Dave's Sweet & Zesty)

Generously sprinkle both sides of the ribs with salt (and pepper, if you like). Place the ribs in your slow cooker.


(Do you see all the salt?)
Pour the entire can of Coke over the ribs . . . .


Cover and cook on low for 6 - 8 hours. Isn't this easy?


After the ribs have cooked on low for 6-8 hours, carefully remove them from your slow cooker. The ribs will be very tender, so you may want to use a slotted spoon.


Empty the cooking liquid from your slow cooker and place the ribs back in the slow cooker. Add the barbeque sauce (to your taste) and let the barbequed ribs heat on low for about 30 minutes or until heated through. If you like, instead of heating the ribs in the slow cooker, you can place them on a pre-heated grill and baste them with barbeque sauce.

Enjoy!

Please let me know if you have any recipes, tips, or techniques you'd like to share. They're always welcome! And, if you try any of the recipes and want to share them, please send a photo along with any comments to me. I'll publish them in the next post!

Next week: a delicious Fresh (or frozen) Vegetable Salad!


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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Soft, Chewy Cookies . . . .



Who doesn't love a soft, chewy cookie? These 3 simple tips ensure soft, chewy cookies every time you bake:

The first tip involves the recipe's ingredients. Many cookie recipes have been updated for a blend of butter and shortening, but if the recipe you're using calls for butter only, substitute shortening (not oil) for 1/2 of the butter. Use butter that is at room temperature and be sure to cream the butter and shortening until it's light and fluffy. Using a blend of 1/2 butter, 1/2 shortening in any cookie recipe helps to ensure soft, chewy cookies.

Tip #2 affects the baking time:  shorten the time shown on the recipe by 2 minutes, but be sure the cookies look to be almost done before taking them out of the oven. You will need to be aware of whether your oven is "fast" (a little warmer than the temperature shown) or "slow" (a little cooler than the temperature shown) and the average amount of time it usually takes for cookies to bake. Whatever amount of time you typically use, simply decrease that time by 2 minutes.

My final tip for achieving soft, chewy cookies is to allow the cookies to remain on the baking sheet for 2 minutes after taking them out of the oven. If the cookies still look wet and not quite done, put them back into the oven for another minute or two and allow them to remain on the baking sheet for 2 minutes after taking them out of the oven. Move the cookies from the baking sheet to a cooling rack after 2 minutes has passed.

* The instructions for the recipe below are if you're using a stand mixer. If you don't have a stand mixer, that's ok. A hand mixer or mixing by hand will also work. Instead of adding ingredients while the mixer is running, just add the appropriate ingredient(s) and then mix!


Aunt Sophie's White Cookies

My great-Aunt Sophie was a terrific baker. She gave me the recipe for her delicious white cookies while I was still in high school. These cookies are light without being overly sweet and have become a family favorite. Enjoy!


1/2 cup butter, room temperature                                                                
1/2 cup shortening                                          
1/2 cup sugar                                                  
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup Rice Krispies (or similar) cereal
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal (uncooked)
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and shortening until well-blended, then add the sugar and brown sugar and continue to cream until light and fluffy. Add the egg and blend well. With the mixer running on a low-medium speed, add the vanilla, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Turn the mixer to a low speed and add the cereal, oatmeal, and flour. Mix just until all the ingredients are blended. Drop the cookie dough by rounded teaspoon or scoop onto a greased baking sheet (or an ungreased baking sheet covered with a silpat mat or parchment paper). Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the cookies begin to turn a slight golden color and look to be almost done baking. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for 2 minutes to finish baking before moving them to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

I welcome any questions and comments you may have. I'm always looking for new and/or better tips and techniques for making soft, chewy cookies. If you have any, please share them! If you have a cookie recipe you'd like to share, please send it to me and I'll do my best to post it for everyone. And, if you try the recipe and want to share your success, take a picture and send it to me. I'll post it in the next entry. Thank you!

Next Week:  Slow-Cooker Country Pork Ribs made with an ingredient you can't imagine!

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